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Commentary

Sauce for Sereno is sauce for the Eight

05:07 AM June 11, 2018

There are basically three alternatives by which to correct an erroneous decision of the Supreme Court: FIRST is for the Court to reconsider its decision and reverse itself; SECOND is to remove the erring and unrepentant justices via impeachment, and then reconstitute the Court; and THIRD is to overrule the decision by constitutional amendment (e.g., rewrite the Constitution to make it clear the decision was a constitutional overreach, and restore the rights lost because of the aberrant decision).

So, the Supreme Court may be the “court of last resort” in our legal system, but it does not mean it has the last and final say on what every word of the Constitution means.

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It is in this light that the proposed resolution by the Senate, urging the Supreme Court to review its decision to oust Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno not through impeachment but by way of a quo warranto petition, should be viewed. It means there are 14 senators, a numerical majority, who are unwilling to acquiesce in the legal circumlocutions that were used to justify the ruling in Republic vs Sereno. It further means, if the political will is there to remove the erring justices by impeachment of which the Senate will be the trial court, that notice is being given of a possible unfavorable vote from each of the senators signing the resolution.

The easy way out of a deviant and wrongful decision is self-correction on the part of the Supreme Court. Therefore, the motion for reconsideration filed by the ousted chief justice offers a new opportunity for the justices concerned to engage in sober reflection on what they have decided, considering the widespread outcry against their conduct.

They may wan to revisit these questions: How much of their personal predilections or values affected their objectivity? Did they actually decide out of fidelity to the Constitution or, wittingly or unwittingly, as a payout for what could be a “debt of gratitude” (utang na loob)? Would a decision to hold their ground preserve or undermine the independence of the judiciary?

My own test could be somewhat harsher: What is sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander.

Republic vs Sereno has accomplished two paradoxical (contradictory) goals. On the one hand, it has lifted the banner of judicial supremacy (by casually encroaching upon the appointing power of the president and irreverently preempting Congress’ exercise of its power of impeachment, thereby enlarging the breadth of judicial domain). On the other, it has unceremoniously shrunk the Court as an institution and undermined its independence by observably pandering to the declared desires of President Duterte, who had called for the “forced removal” of his “enemy,” the top magistrate of the land.

The Court’s decision is now under a motion for reconsideration, and whenever deemed to be unconstitutional (for being against the plain text of the constitutional rule on impeachment and contrary to the constitutional principle of judicial independence) or otherwise as a “legal abomination,” the decision per se is also considered a gross manifestation of inherent lack of “integrity” on the part of the erring justices.

So the central question that should be asked in deciding the motion is this: Whether quo warranto, rather than full-dress impeachment proceedings, is now the lawful, constitutional and appropriate remedy to oust any remaining defiant justice found liable for the egregious error.

There are compelling reasons why the “Brazen 8” should treat the ousted chief justice fairly, the way they presumably would like to be treated if ever placed in the same lot. There is no guarantee they can hold on to being the majority indefinitely, or to rule out a reversal of fortune.

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Abe N. Margallo is a published author and a former Constitutional Law professor.

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TAGS: Abe N. Margallo, Inquirer Commentary, Maria Lourdes Sereno, quo warranto petition, Sereno impeachment, Supreme Court
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